We Fade to Gris

How do the French words spoken at the beginning of Visage’s Fade to Grey make you feel? Amused? Disturbed? Intrigued? Does it matter that the speaker, Brigitte Arens, is from Belgium? By the way, if the video below doesn’t work where you are in the world, try this one:

A touch of French in an English song introduces a soupçon of intrigue and mystery. Something like this. No other European language has quite the same effect on native speakers of English.

Most of the audience won’t have understood the meaning of devenir gris at the beginning of Fade to Grey. But they will have registered Frenchness: a swirling mix of exotic otherness and philosophers in black polo necks sipping absinthe and smoking Gitanes. A vibrant world, conjured by two French words, spoken in an authentic accent.

If English isn’t your native language: when you sing the chorus of Fade to Grey, pronounce to with a proper schwa sound. The contrast of classic English and exotic French only works if the lines between the two are clearly drawn. Like this.

The unexpected French beginning primes the listener perfectly for unpredictability in the song itself. It also primes the audience to wrap the first image, of One man on a lonely platform, One case sitting by his side, in a swathe of existential angst. It stops the audience wasting time searching for clues to the man’s identity in the lyrics. It’s clear from the very first line. He is Camus’ Stranger or Iggy Pop’s Passenger. A grey character, full of meaning but empty of personality.

If the song had started with the English fade to grey, it would have sounded like a train announcement, in the spirit of Mind the Gap.

You notice that Julia Fodor, who appears in the video, only mimes the first two French lines of the song. She’s not French and it would have been difficult for her to mime the more complex lines authentically, keeping her lips in the right shape and not looking as if she’s forming the words in the centre of her mouth, as a Londoner would. The audience would have noticed a disjoint between the French sounds and the shape of her mouth. That would have been a distraction in such a carefully controlled video.

Speaking of careful control, David Bowie was so impressed with Steve Strange’s attention to visual detail that he asked him to style and appear in his Ashes to Ashes video. You can see that they shared the same taste in lipstick:

R.I.P.  Steve Strange

© Sing Better English, 2015


3 thoughts on “We Fade to Gris”

  1. Sadly, the “Visage Fade to Gray” video doesn’t seem to be available in the United States — but I did *greatly* enjoy your link to Peter Sarstedt, both because it beautifully illustrated your point, and because it reminded me of my friend Geraint John Jones, whom I met a few years ago in Paris. If you should be curious about how Sarstedt’s song sounds with a Welsh accent, you can feast your ears here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7gjwfeKAMY 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Heather – that’s annoying, but thanks for letting me know. The video has told me a couple of times that it’s not available to me either, but I think this version will work in the US http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x17ei1_visage-fade-to-grey_music

      The video’s interesting as a piece of musical archaeology, if nothing else. It’s of a pre-tattoo fashion time – so the snake around his body is much more surprising. And men in make-up don’t tend to do the full-on Pierrot thing these days, do they?

      Have you ever seen the song You Spin Me Round? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGNiXGX2nLU I think they must have shared the same round and round thing.

      I saw your friend Geraint when I was scanning YouTube for Where do you go to cover versions. Now I watch it again, I can pick up a bit of a Welsh twirl. He’s from South Wales, I’m guessing? Is he studying music in Leeds? I saw another of his videos busking there and it’s famous for its university Music department.

      Thanks for visiting. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. … and thank YOU for sharing an alternative link to Fade to Grey! You are so right that it’s a gem of musical archaeology. This must have been shocking in its day! Which makes me wonder if in a generation or two, everyone will be walking around looking like Marilyn Manson. 🙂 Also loved the parallel you drew to “You Spin Me Round.” Brilliant observation!

        As for Geraint … yes! You’re spot-on. He’s from Northallerton. I can’t remember where he did his university — but I know he studied film. He started singing as a diversion, but became a full-time busker when he landed in Paris. (Side note: French spoken with a Welsh accent is quite a treat!) But last year he left Paris and now lives in Berlin. (Leading me to wonder how German sounds with a slathering of Welsh. Quite fetching, I should think!)

        In any case, thank you again for starting my day with some wonderful music — and some equally fun memories. Cheers to you!

        Liked by 1 person

We'd love to know what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.